When people feel they are working with others as a team to reach a goal, they are more motivated to achieve the goal, even without any extrinsic reward, than if they are working alone. They work harder and longer at the task, become more absorbed and perform better.
But how do you make people feel connected? It might be easier than you think.
Gregory Walton from Stanford found that when college students believed they shared a birthday with another student, they were more motivated to complete a task with that student and performed better on the task. He found the same effect with four and five year olds.
In another study Walton had people who were part of the experiment jog in place, raising their heart rate. Participants in the study who felt they were socially connected to this person (for example,were told they had the same birthday) had an increased heart rate, too.
It’s easy for people to take on the goals, motivations, emotions, and even physical reactions of people whom they feel even minimally connected to.
You can also use synchronous behavior -- having people do something together -- such as laughing, singing, or dancing to bond a group.
Looking for ways to bring people together, and to show how people are connected doesn't just make the team's task ahead more fun or easier to bear. It can actually make them work harder and perform better.
Walton, Gregory M., Geoffrey Cohen, David Cwir, and Steven Spencer. 2012. “Mere belonging: The power of social connections.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102 (3): 513-532.